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technology in the '90s  

the interactive gambit (do not run! we are your friends!)

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Now, I would like to show a short videotape about the first computer-controlled interactive artwork I made, a 1991 work titled "The Surprising Spiral". The narration on this tape, and the others you will see tonight, are contemporaneous with the projects they document, and I think it's interesting to listen, too, (at least for me) to how my sense of discussing this work also changes over time.


Because it connects to known forms, such as the shrine or the vending-machine, the circuit described between the desire to "get something" from the work and the expectation of a "return" informs the basic drive in the interactive encounter. The Surprising Spiral brought this to my attention quite clearly. The structure of t he work is such that the viewer-participant cannot "know" what effects their actions will produce. What I learned was that many who encountered this work were frustrated by their inability to "get what they wanted", to control the work. Interactivity is , in many ways, about affirmation of the human action by a nonhuman object, a narcissistic "it sees me". But beyond that, there is the desire for "control", for "mastery" over the non-human entity. I also learned that it is a rare viewer who feels comfortable in the role of public participant in an interactive work which has no clear "goal". People always seem to ask the same questions when the "destination" of the interaction is unclear - "How is it structured?", "Is it random?", "How can I get what I want (or see what I want to see)?", "Am I doing it right?", "What will happen if I do 'this' or 'that'?"

But one of the things I was after in that work was to take away the possibility of "control" so that people have to abandon the idea of having a goal, a destination. Why? Well, for one thing, it is one of the subject matters of the work, relating to thi s idea of travel as the experience of the going-along itself. But also, I wanted to be quite clear that I was not offering people "choices", "menus", or any of the other fare well known at that time from commercial kiosk applications and training videodiscs.


But it pointed something out to me very clearly - that people expected unambiguous interaction. It actually disappointed me tremendously, as I expect the audience, and audiences turned into participants, to bring to interactive works the same capacity fo r abstraction, metaphor, and ambiguity that are well deployed and comfortable when viewing painting, or other artworks.

I had the good luck to hear Julia Kristeva speaking on the work of Antonin Artaud that was shown here several months ago. Among other things, she pointed out that the annihilation of meaning which is a central factor in the production of humor is essenti ally a negativity which is, itself, a rebellion.

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